By  on February 29, 2008

WEST NYACK, N.Y. — Camille La Vie, the special occasion and bridal division of Group USA, is a testament to the resistance of weddings and other big celebrations to the vagaries of the economy.

Group USA next year will convert all 19 of its stores to the Camille La Vie nameplate, combining with seven Camille La Vie units, for a total of 26.

"We expect to double that number by 2010 and grow to 150 units in five years," said Sherry Cohen, district manager of Group USA, which had sales of $75 million last year.

"We dress you from communion to bridal," Cohen said, noting that Camille La Vie also specializes in quinceañeras, homecomings, proms and black-tie events.

The retailer is refining the merchandise mix of its stores, which are typically between 6,000 and 25,000 square feet. Camille La Vie wants to build its sportswear, jewelry and accessories businesses to provide a one-stop apparel shop. Sportswear brands include Alison Taylor, WDNY, Belldini and Cyrus as well as private label.

"In six months, all our products will have the Camille La Vie label," Cohen said. "A year ago, we switched to less suiting. There's a lot less structure out in the workplace and we want to meet that demand. We created a new day-into-evening department with embellished and glitzy sweaters."

The style is "Housewives of Orange County," with a black ladder-top sweater, $45.99, jeans with slits down the sides fastened with rhinestones, $44.99, and a gold V-neck top gathered by a medallion, $44.99. "The customers like glitz," Cohen said. "They like bling. The customer who would be missy is dressing younger. She wants to wear what her daughter wears."

Daughters, apparently, want to dress older, as a scan of the prom offerings revealed. A metallic jersey dress had a gold chain entwined into its keyhole slit bodice, $139; a long orange dress with a wide band of beads had a low-cut open back, $159.99, and a zebra-print silk charmeuse dress with a keyhole halter bodice was outlined in black gems, $169.99.

Alteration services and special orders are available in bridal and a selection of bridesmaid dresses is always in-stock. Others can be ordered and delivered in two to three weeks. Wedding gowns account for 20 percent of sales. Styles include an organza gown with silver metallic embroidery and cathedral train, $749.99, a satin ballgown with a skirt gathered in folds and pearl-beaded lace midriff, $599.99, and a chiffon column with a beaded halter neckline, $299.99.The Camille La Vie store at the Palisades Center here occupies a prime space that is next to Apple and across from the Cheesecake Factory. Wedding gowns are displayed at the back of the store, which has plush carpeting, a seating area and spacious dressing rooms covered by heavy beige curtains.

The company is stepping up its marketing, partnering with Sony Pictures for the launch of "Prom Night," and teaming with Seventeen magazine for a prom queen search.

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